Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Chase (1946) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

THE CHASE was a dream of a film noir experience, seen tonight in 35mm at the UCLA Festival of Preservation.

This 1946 movie, based on a book by noir favorite Cornell Woolrich, quickly draws the viewer into its surreal atmosphere and never lets go.  I don't know if any of the film's magic would be lost watching it on DVD, but as seen in a pristine print on a big screen, its mesmerizing effect was tremendous. What a joy to discover this film for the first time.

THE CHASE has some significant plot twists so I'm going to be fairly limited in my description. I don't typically care much about spoilers myself, but this is a film which is especially fun to approach with no preconceptions.

Robert Cummings plays Chuck Scott, a veteran who finds and returns a wallet belong to wealthy Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran). Eddie likes Chuck's honesty -- which is ironic as Eddie is clearly anything but an honest businessman -- and hires him as a chauffeur.

Chuck is broke and, happy to have a roof over his head, he moves into Eddie's Florida mansion, where the residents also include Eddie's righthand man, the creepy Gino (Peter Lorre), and Eddie's depressed and withdrawn wife, Lorna (Michele Morgan).

Lorna forms the habit of asking Chuck to take her on a drive to the ocean every evening.  She begins to confide in him, and then she asks Chuck to help her escape her husband and flee to Havana...

This was a fascinating movie with many interesting layers. The bizarre atmosphere includes odd touches such as a car with backseat controls of the accelerator and brakes; a pony-sized, none-too-friendly dog; a knife with a jade monkey engraved on the handle; and a sobbing woman who manages to distract a homicide detective with her endless tears. As a frightened man runs for his life down shadowy streets, it just doesn't get any more "noir" than that.

In keeping with the movie's heated, dreamlike tropical atmosphere, the film was surprisingly steamy for 1946, with love scenes which showed absolutely nothing by today's standards, or lack It's pretty rare to watch a 1940s film and actually be thinking that the couple really need a hotel room, and fast. I overheard others commenting on that aspect at intermission. The relationship does at first seem to be from out of nowhere, but the actors sold me and I was willing to buy into it.

Robert Cummings brings his everyman, slightly sarcastic quality to a character who, initially rather vague and aimless, has nothing to lose but his new meal ticket...and then, suddenly, he has everything to lose, just as he is sucked into an ever-spiraling nightmare.

Michele Morgan is effective as the wife who is little more to her husband than an exotic caged bird, and Steve Cochran is simply terrific as a man who is pure evil. I've become quite a fan of Cochran since seeing TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951), and he does not disappoint. Lorre, of course, is the perfect partner in crime.

Jack Holt has a small but key role as a Navy doctor, and Lloyd Corrigan is a businessman who makes the mistake of annoying Eddie.

The UCLA audience was fortunate to have an introduction provided by Harold Nebenzal, the son of the film's producer, Seymour Nebenzal. He mentioned that Peter Lorre was tiring of playing villains, but agreed to be one of the bad guys in THE CHASE because Seymour Nebenzal had produced M (1931), the film that gave Lorre his breakout role and put him on the path to a successful movie career.

Mr. Nebenzal also said that his father had been having trouble booking the largest soundstage on the Goldwyn lot for the Havana scenes, and when he went to Goldwyn about it directly, Goldwyn told Nebenzal that if he hired Steve Cochran -- who was then under contract to Goldwyn -- he could have the use of the soundstage along with the actor. The deal worked out perfectly for all involved.

I was later very interested to learn that Harold Nebenzal is the widower of actress Rita Corday, who appeared in half a dozen films in the FALCON series. Regular readers know how much I've been enjoying the Falcon movies over the last year or so!

This 86-minute movie was directed by Arthur Ripley from a screenplay by Philip Yordan. The black and white cinematography was by Frank (Franz) Planer.

There have been multiple DVD releases of THE CHASE, which seems to have fallen into the public domain. The VCI DVD release is paired as a set with BURY ME DEAD (1947), which I reviewed almost exactly a year ago. According to a couple comments seen online, the VCI print is much better than the one released by Alpha. It does not appear to be available from Netflix, but it can be rented from ClassicFlix.

THE CHASE is a movie I look forward to seeing again. It would make a great double bill with REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947), as the movies share some surprising thematic similarities. And as a matter of fact, the second film on tonight's double bill, HIGH TIDE (1947), would be perfect paired with TRY AND GET ME (1950), as they each explore tabloid journalism. My review of HIGH TIDE can be found here.

THE CHASE was a wonderful movie experience, one of my favorite films seen so far this year. Recommended.


Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Yowza. Must keep this in mind.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Yvette said...

I, too, will be keeping this one in mind, Laura. I'd never heard of it so it will be an all new experience. Thanks for a great review.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Kristina D said...

It's been a few years since I saw this one (public domain version, would love to see a better quality print now) but I like it a lot too, for the reasons you mention. Cool cast all around, nightmarish and surreal, and h-o-t! Which gives it that added hazy, hallucination feeling. Very highly recommended to anyone who loves a noir, yet another case where the lesser known stuff can be more of a thrill than the ESSENTIALS. super review, Cheerio

11:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jacqueline and Yvette, hope you can see this one -- and in a good print!

Kristina, loved your comments and so interested that you reacted similarly.

You might enjoy watching this video of Eddie Muller recently introducing the film at the Seattle version of the Noir City festival -- he keeps it spoiler free. He says it's the closest a movie from the classic film era comes to a David Lynch film, LOL.

Best wishes,

3:25 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Gosh, I need to watch this again. I saw it about 5 years ago and didn't like it at all!
But after reading your excellent analysis , I will definitely watch it once more . (If I can get a copy which isn't too expensive!)

2:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, our movie tastes are often so similar, I'd be really interested to know how you respond to the film when you watch it again -- pro or con! Would like to know your opinion. So glad to know that my post has inspired interest in taking a fresh look at it. Thank you!

Best wishes,

10:25 AM  

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